"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com
HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa. (Sports Network) --
Tiger Woods represents Wuzzie, Izzie and Willie. That is as close to Manny, Moe and Jack or Larry, Mo and Curly (although Shep stepped in when Curly passed away) that he will get as far as representing one of the more interesting threesomes that have traversed this planet of ours over the years. But he is one man, you say, just one. Right. Tell that to the other golfers on the tour who see him as an army of one, moving in every direction as though there were multiple players, each with an exceptional aptitude and skill point to conquer any and every golf course put before them...or him.
Tiger Woods stoically observes during the 2000 PGA Championship. |
(Harry How /Allsport)
Was he good for golf when he came along in recent years? Unabashedly yes. He represented a phenomenon necessary to shake the game to its roots, to force players to go out and do more than hit 1,000 or so balls every day on the practice tee. It was time to contemplate conditioning, strength exercises and a realization that good shots were not good enough out there week after week. Great became the paradigm put in place by Tiger Woods. Everyone had to rise to a new level. The golfing community found itself scrambling for second-place trophies and prize money. The touchstone had been reshaped by a young man who could not only hit the ball farther than anyone else on the tour, he could place it wherever he wanted to...most of the time.
The response was not immediate. The awe was. Television networks began scrambling for time slots, reassessing the cost of commercial time, putting more cameras out on the course than they would use to cover an intergalactic war. Tiger was busily putting his game in order and set his mind to dismantling the golfing fraternity, as we know it. As he curbed his temper and improved his game, a one-man juggernaut began to emerge. Nike was laughing all the way to the bank. So was Tiger when anyone could get a glimpse of him off the course.
How depressing to find yourself 8, 9,10 strokes off the pace after the first day...in a tournament where you were the leader only a year or two ago. And, then, 15, 16, 17 behind on the second day. Was there any reason to finish the last two rounds if you had "title" in your head when you arrived? I don't think so.
Golf, for those of us who play...well or badly, is you against you. Sure, there is match play but no one can screw things up as much as yourself. No one can return to normalcy, or beyond, to recoup except you. For those of us who have had the opportunity to join a 4, 5 or scratch golfer on a given day, the pressure is enormous unless we learn to play within ourselves and recover as quickly as we lost "it." Playing with Tiger Woods, for some of the best in the world, has turned into a format for pressurization. It should not be so... but it is.
And everyone else talking about it all the time, enlarging that pedestal upon which Woods deservedly stands, by the hour, compounds it.
He was good for golf so Wuzzie is firmly in place, his position in history and golf lore assured for decades to come. It is no different than the arrival of Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, the club hustler turned pro, Player, the tactician who knew how to remove a tree's branches with his practice swings, Greg Norman, whose game was a five iron short of his personality, John Daly, whose long drives are a thing of the past now that Tiger is stroking 625 yard holes in two for eagles.
Tiger Woods celebrates capturing the 100th US Open on the 18th green at Pebble Beach. (Jamie Squire/ALLSPORT)|
Is he good for golf? Today I have to believe that he is. Tiger Woods is shaking the foundation of the game and causing players to rethink their games, to be concerned about showing up every week to scramble for second place. The field that follows him wouldn't move if the ten most popular sex kittens in Hollywood streaked across the adjacent fairway au natural. Not good enough. This young man is making shots that come as easily to him as a simple pitching wedge from 50 yards in front of the green is to others...and he is behind a tree, in deep rough without a look at the green. He just knows he can make it while others busy themselves with worrying about how badly they will miss it.
Woods innovates on the fly, with assurance. Nothing he does mystifies him. He is undaunted. Unchallenged. Confidence exudes with every step, each stroke. He constructs his game and imagines how it should be with every stride up the fairway. You par, he birdies. You birdie, he eagles. You drive that dimpled pill down the fairway 300+ yards and his shot rockets over yours like a pigeon with rockets attached to its wings. He misses a 65-foot putt and the audience surrounding the green is disappointed. Into the rough and mind bets are made on how he will get out and how close to the pin he will be, not whether or not he can. He has matured beyond his years and that is even scarier than his game. He contrives, conceives and develops as he goes.
The young man is focused. Is he good for the game? He has taken it to another dimension deserving of yet another Star Wars sequel, with fairways and greens dotting the skies and going from planet to planet.
How are they going to stop him in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup and how happy will we be knowing he is wearing our colors? Can he win it all? No, but he can win his share of events and help us get a stranglehold on each trophy before the opening introductions are made on the first tee(s).
Will he be good for the game? Therein lies the rub, as the Bard would have said. Only if he raises the bar for everyone else. Only as long as he pushes every other player on the PGA Tour, especially the younger ones coming up, to work at it, elevate their respective games and become more competitive... spending a lot more time on practice and less on adulation. I remember those years when I was a boy in New York City and knew that the Yankees just had to thrown their gloves on the field to make the score 5-0 before the first pitch was thrown. Tiger Woods is 5 strokes ahead of the field, in their minds, before he tees it up on the first hole. Not good.
Because of his charm, the new him we have seen in the last year, the crowds and media will not root against him but they will root for the person coming up on the outside. We love our heroes but we love our underdogs even more. The TV commentators have placed small statues of Woods on their dashboards while building an image that is even greater than his game. That will make any fall, any breakdown more devastating than the acceptable fact it should be.
The people against whom he is competing are not exactly rank amateurs. They are the cream of the crop and will become yesterday's news if he continues to dominate the game, as he is. The crowds are not coming out to see a competitive match any longer. They are showing up to see what new feats of prestidigitation he can unveil. Other foursomes are playing for their families, friends, agents, truly loyal fans and those who cannot get close enough to the rope to see Tiger. Second place money is good enough to merit a life style that others only dream about, but it is our national pastime to come in first, to raise that eternal digit towards the sky and justify the act.
When the golfers begin to arrive and see the bag with "Tiger" on it, do they begin milling about the bar, practice putting area, driving range and just begin to determine who can come in second? How sad that will be. He is not athlete in the true context of the word, as neither were Palmer or Nicklaus despite the fact that they could both saunter out on to the tennis courts from time to time. But, Woods has treated the games as if he were a Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter and he trains as they would. He understands what must be done to be the best. He nurtures his game like a mother teaching a baby to walk. Patiently and painstakingly. He works on the impossible and near impossible shots, honing his trade all the while.
How will that play next year and beyond? Will he be good for the game... it depends. He might make winning boring, for us, not for him. And, if it becomes boring for him, if he goes unchallenged, then it is just a matter of opting when to show up, go through the motions and collect the check. Woods is a study in concentration. He is not out there to do the best he can; he is there to demolish the competition by doing better than he thought he could. And, there is a difference in approach to the game.
Let's put it in perspective. He is winning some $7 million in prize money this year; about $500,000 per event and that comes out to $1,742 and some odd change every time he strikes the ball. Start scratching your head. I began that practice watching him this year. I am not sure that he will be good for the game in the years to come. If he pushes his colleagues on the course to play better, he will be a phenomenal addition. If he does not, he will have been a phenomenal addition. Think about it. There is a difference.
And, while you are at it, consider his approach to the game, as compared to your approach. You may wonder why, when you go out there next time, you are too tired to hit a hundred or so practice balls with every club in your arsenal, and you end up hooking or slicing your first shot off the tee, and then again, and again, and again.
Think about it: Wuzzie...Izzie...Willie?
You gotta be kidding me!